MoD bonuses bring out the worst

Sometimes a story comes along that just makes me want to ask the political classes to lie in a darkened room for a few hours until the temptation to say anything stupid has passed.

Such was the feeling this morning, on hearing about this story in the Daily Mail. In its inimitable fashion, the paper describes the scandalous situation:

Ministry of Defence bureaucrats have pocketed nearly £300million in bonuses while soldiers have been dying from lack of equipment.

The pen-pushers also won extra cash for hitting targets for promoting diversity and improving health and safety.

What a masterpiece of emotive outrage. On the face of it, the situation is indeed scandalous. Our boys are dying while fat-buttocked bureaucrats rake in the dosh for doing nothing more than moving a biro.

The government finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend this seemingly indefensible nonsense.

Of course, the truth is far more nuanced than the Mail would have you believe. Some years ago, the government in its wisdom decided that civil servants would no longer be paid a simple wage, but rather that the overall pay package would be depressed and that the remainder would be paid as bonuses in order to fulfil the government’s religious devotion to performance related pay. Performance related pay presupposes that some people will get less, while some will get more – that some people, in short, will get bonuses. These are paid not in addition to the standard wage settlement. They are part of the wage settlement. Complaining that MoD staff are paid bonuses is the same as complaining that they are paid at all. Bonuses are just part of their pay.

Of course, to our politically unnuanced media, this is so much sophistry. And it is hard to have too much sympathy for the government. By making ‘bonuses’ a standard feature of paying civil servants, it was only a matter of time before this kind of story came to bite it. But the Mail’s pious pronouncements on this issue are just so much hogwash. If it objects to MoD staff being paid – so be it. But that would hardly contribute to our military success in Afghanistan or anywhere else.

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